One Last Night (+ chart) by Abram Bussiere
Ritual GMless drinking RPG about characters on the cusp of an apocalypse pursuing their final desires.

Bucket List — The Drinking Game

One Last Night sets the stage for four or five characters to make a list of things they want to accomplish before the end of the world. Despite the name, these are tasks that can be accomplished in about a week. On each player’s turn, the other players represent the competing items on the list and attempt to entice the player in to working towards the goal they advocate for. Only one player will finish their whole list so everyone has to think carefully about what’s most important to their character.

In my opinion, that game sounds awesome. However, it’s hard to find in the One Last Night rules. The instructions, especially early on, are hard to understand. But even more frustrating, is a list of very, very specific rules that seem to have no purpose. For example, each player must have one mixed drink for each other player in the game; the rules say that each drink must be of a different type. But why? It doesn’t seem to matter. Similarly, the rules are very strict about not talking out of turn but I’ve never known a drinking game that didn’t devolve into giggling, banter and gabbiness.

In a similar vein, the inclusion of some of the Game Chef ingredients feel unnecessary. The lights are to be turned out with only a dim lantern lighting the room, but the author’s example apocalypse is Atlantis. Not really the setting you think of needing mood lighting. The drinking game aspect seems to be an abstract combination of two Forge threads but I honestly wish the author had stuck the original idea of a pile of paperclips instead of liquor.

All in all, I think this draft is a great start. My recommendation to the author would be to go back and pull out the parts added to satisfy the Game Chef rules and then decide if this is a serious or humorous game. Mood lighting and a talking stick = serious; mixed drinks and shots = humorous.

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Coyote Won’t Talk by Morgan Stinson
Four Masks will make us Fox, Dog, Wolf and Coyote. A flashlight will be our lantern. Gathered around the fire at the end of the world, we will watch the stars go out and decide what the best thing about people was. Coyote won’t talk. Mostly.

Overall, I really liked this game. It reminds me of a skit you might see on Who’s Line Is It Anyway? It’s improv with a few basic rules and emphasizes the go-with-it concept of “Yes, and…”. The only downside I see is that, for players who aren’t familiar with improv or pure story games, they might be a little lost for what to say. Without an experienced player to lead them by example, an “actual play” transcript in the rules would be helpful.

In terms of Game Chef, this game made good use of the ingredients. Three of the ingredients were used literally but didn’t feel forced or bolted on. The fourth, doctor, was incorporated based on its etymology, making the fox more like Doc from Snow White than House or Doogie Howser. The theme was there but not integral to the game; I could imagine a dog and wolf chatting about what makes humans good or bad even with humans still around. It could be the plot of movie where a dog gets stuck in the zoo and tries to convince the other animals that humans are swell.

Finally, the layout, art, and finishing details really add to this game. Kudos for taking the extra time and effort.

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Yeah, there’s a cure for what’s killing you, kid, but there’s 7 walls between you & the only doc with it. Face it, you’ve got 2 weeks left.

Sweating Seven Rules
Sweating Seven Character Sheets

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It’s been awhile coming, but I meant to post to say that my little game, Pub Crawl, was selected as a finalist in the Game Chef 2010 “create a roleplaying game” contest. I would have posted earlier but, by the time I found out I was in it, the final round was half over. It was deflating how poorly the time frame was communicated to the participants; as far as I can tell, the only way to have known was to keep checking the website at periodic intervals an update.

That being said, winning wasn’t the point. Since the final round was a popularity contest, it favored people established within that community. I still got the experience of creating a game, testing it a little, getting other gamers to look at it, and then laying out a PDF. I learned that when I do write another game and decide to publish it, I’ll definitely want to work with someone who’s good at layout design.

At this point, I’m planning to play the game with a few different groups of people to get their feedback. If I learn something interesting about the way it plays, I’ll definitely release a revised version here.

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When running a game like Dungeons and Dragons, I often find myself spending countless hours building a world map. I don’t really know enough about cartography, topology or geography to make a realistic map and the people I play with never put much thought into the map. They often make a straight trek from location to location. Recently, it occurred to me that having everyone help build the map might get greater buy in.

Carcassonne, a board game of map tiles, came to mind as a good way to build a kingdom. For anyone who hasn’t played, the base game is made up of cities, roads, cloisters and fields. There are rules for two or more players to take turns placing the tiles and score points. When the game is done, you’re left with a map of roads and cities of various sizes. Because you draw the tiles in a random order, the overall design becomes very organic.

Part of a finished Carcassonne game

How do we translate this in to a world map for a fantasy game? Another mechanic in the game is deciding which player gets the points for each completed item. This is tracked through little wooden men of various colors — one for each player. Before the group starts to play, assign a race from your role-playing game to each color token. For example, the elves could be represented by the green guys. During the game of Carcassonne, as a player completes an area, jot down which race makes their home there. It is worth noting that multiple players can score points from a single area so it is likely that you’ll have mixed race cities, roads and fields.

After the game concludes, hand draw or use a camera to capture the image of the map. One by one, go down the list of items and ask the players to name and describe them. Since the rules of Carcassone allow for places to go unclaimed by any player, you should use those areas to account for races that weren’t represented by any player. This should cover the other playable races and NPC races like goblins, orcs, etc.

Here are some quick tips for handling each type of structure:

  • Cities: The more tiles included in the city, the higher the population. If the city is unfinished by the end of the game, this could represent that the city walls are either under construction or recently damaged. It might also represent a port city.
  • Pennants: Some city tiles are worth extra points and are marked by a pennant. In the world map, cities with more pennants are higher up the feudal food chain. For example, the king might call the big pictured city home since it has three pennants.
  • Roads: Ownership of a road might be translated into a few different things. For example, maybe the dwarves were responsible for carving a road through a mountain. Or a path through the forest is known for elves that often hassle travelers.
  • Cloisters: Since only one player may ever own a given cloister, it is easy to treat them as a temple for that race’s patron deity. If a cloister goes unclaimed, it might also be a dungeon just waiting to be explored.
  • Fields: Although treated as farmland in the actual game, use fields as any area of open land in your world. This could be anything from a dense forest to desolate tundra.

You can also use Carcassone to expand the world when the group wants to travel off the original map. Sketch a quick guide on a sheet of paper to represent the boundry of your current map and then play another full game building off that template.

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Recently, you and your friends participated in a semi-annual event in your city: the pub crawl. There were good times, there were bad times and, as is often the case, now you’re all sitting around swapping stories from that day. Who wouldn’t laugh remembering the blush on Penelope’s face when she realized that the bartender offering her a virgin mimosa wasn’t commenting on her sex life? And all the guys wince every time Tex points out that he got hit in the junk with a baseball bat while defending Bambi.

Since alcohol was involved, you’re going to need some help from your friends to remember the details of what happened that day.

Click Here to Download

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As I mentioned last week, I’ll be participating in Game Chef (a contest to write a draft of a roleplaying game in one week.)  Last night, the details of this year’s contest were posted:

Name: Game Chef: Sojouner
Theme: Journey
Ingredients: City, Desert, Edge, Skin (Pick 3)

My initial reaction was to put all the words into a thesaurus and find similar words. I created a long list that played on the different meanings of each. First idea? Do something with Navajo skin-walkers in a New Mexico desert. After that, the fact that a drumhead is also called a skin gave me the idea of a rock tour. I considered making the players the extra staff that travels with a band, having to clean up after their unruly hijinx.

For both of those ideas, I couldn’t come up with a pitch. In a few sentences, what’s this game about? How would I explain it to people in such a way that they’d want to play? I printed out my list and intended to just soak on it; sometimes, the best ideas come when you’re not actively thinking about the problem.

Finally, just before falling asleep, I decided on a game:

Pub Crawl: Take the Edge Off
Your city is hosting it’s annual event wherein all the local bars, pubs and restaurants throw open their doors in hopes of stirring up business. You and your friends are going to spend the evening drinking in and walking between a half dozen bars. While you’re all friends, you each hope to get something different out of the experience. If you get a little too drunk, will your friends desert you? Is your designated driver going to be able to resist the siren’s call of ten seasonal lagers? Has that girl with the pink skirt been following you from place to place?

That’s my idea and I’m going to run with it. I plan to design the game to use Fudge dice so that I’ll have another use for them now that my Diaspora game has fallen to the wayside. Stay tuned for more posts on how the experience is going and, once I’m done, the PDF of the game will be available for free download.

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A few times while listening to The Walking Eye podcast, I’ve heard mention of a game design contest called Game Chef. From my understanding, it’s like fiction writing contests I’ve entered. You’re given a specific topic or things your work must contain and a limited amount of time to complete a draft. This week, I happened to stumble on the link to this year’s contest.

The 2010 Game Chef will run from September 11th to the 19th. Although I haven’t finished my first game idea, I’m excited to jump in to this contest. It’s only a week long and I’ve previously enjoyed the writing contests I’ve entered. When this is all said and done, look for a post here to see whatever game it is that I come up with.

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Although I’ve been trying to post about my game design experience every Friday, you may have noticed that I didn’t last week. I’ve been struggling with what seems like the next logical obstacle and I wasn’t sure what to write about those struggles. Namely, I can’t figure out what to use for target numbers.

At this point, I’m pretty content with the class and skill lists. With the content I have, someone could create a character and be ready to play. I still need to write GM advice on running an actual “episode” but then we come to what happens the first time someone needs to roll dice. Gather up your The Brains dice and beat a… um, yeah. What number do you beat?

In a game like D&D, they have a fancy chart and formula that helps you determine target numbers. My experience with that was that there were things I wanted the players to succeed at and, since rolls in D&D are pass/fail, I often lowered the difficulty. Mouse Guard, on the other hand, allows you to give the players what they want even if they fail so I tend to stick to the higher difficulty numbers. With that in mind, my plan is to use a “Yes and…” or “No but…” approach to rolls in Geeks and Elites. I want to give the GM an option of letting the players get what they want but at some cost.

That basic design decision still doesn’t give me target numbers but it does let me know that they aren’t quite as important. The computer programmer in me is leaning towards building a small simulation. I see it starting with a few sample characters and then doing rolls for various situations. I could then find what target number(s) would average around 50% success for the players.

Next week, I’ll post the results of that simulation.

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Once I figured out how many dice to allocate to skills, I had to decide what those skills would be. I’ve played a number of games set in modern times but their skill systems seemed to suffer from being overly specific. There was one skill for each type of gun, explosive, bit of technology and then a single one for archaic weapons. You know, those weapons that make up the twelve different skills in a game like Dungeons & Dragons.

In the TV shows that inspired Geeks & Elites, there’s always a few iconic or cliche characters. The weapon nut who was or is in the military. Then there’s the computer nerd, the sweet talker and the guy who thinks he’s funny. To avoid ending up with eleventy-billion skills, I tried to make a small list to cover the vital moving parts. The problem with this approach reared it’s ugly head whenever I saw a new show or a new movie. One of the characters would do something awesome that wasn’t covered by my small skill list.

My breakthrough came as I thought more about the cliche characters I was trying to model. Instead of trying to enumerate the skills they possess, I decided to just name them and write those names on the character sheet. I’ve been struggling to name three geek cliches, but at the moment, the “skill” list is:

  • The Beauty
  • The Muscle
  • The Sneak
  • The Brains
  • The Comedian
  • The Sidekick

When a player builds their character, they’ll allocate their dice among the six cliches. The character’s driving theme will be represented by the biggest dice pool with their other talents represented by smaller numbers. For example, Chuck from Chuck would probably have the bulk of his dice in The Brains with The Comedian filling in the rest. JJ from Criminal Minds would focus mostly on The Beauty while splitting some dice across The Muscle and The Sneak.

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